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10 Lost or Forgotten Sports Trophies

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Wikimedia Commons

Though it is the fourth most popular sport in the country, hockey has its most storied trophy: The Stanley Cup. And part of that story is the legacy of mistreatment and misplacement the old silver bowl had been subjected to over the years. Despite all this, it’s still around and it’s still revered … which puts it well ahead of these other major league trophies.

1. The O’Brien Trophy (hockey)

Lord Stanley’s Cup didn’t always go automatically to the NHL’s champion. Instead, winners of the league’s play-offs were awarded the O’Brien Trophy (above), which had migrated over from a defunct rival league. The O’Brien was gradually demoted to the point that it was awarded to the runner-up of the championship series. Perhaps deciding that champagne tastes less sweet coming out of a 2nd-place trophy, the O’Brien was retired. The last team to “win” the O’Brien: The 1950 New York Rangers.

2. The Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup (football)

Awarded just once in 1920 by the league that would become the NFL, its whereabouts have been a mystery for decades. No photos exist of the “silver-loving cup,” and the team that won it—the Akron Pros—ceased to exist by 1927. The league’s bylaws stated that any team winning the championship three years in a row was to possess the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup permanently, so if you happen across it, it technically belongs to the Green Bay Packers.

As for the trophy’s parent company, they later made a much more prominent name for themselves in a different sport…as Brunswick, the bowling supply company.

3. The Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy (football)

The NFL finally got its act together and began awarding a new, traveling trophy—the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy—in 1934. Perhaps the only trophy to be named after a referee, it continued to be awarded to the NFL’s champion right up until the league’s merger with the AFL in 1970. This makes the Minnesota Vikings—the 1969 NFL Champions (even though they lost the Super Bowl that year)—the last team to win the Ed. The Vikings would go on to lose more than three additional Super Bowls. They misplaced the Ed Thorp Trophy, as well.

4. The Orbiter Trophy (basketball)

For a league known for multi-color basketballs, dopey team names and enormous afros, the ABA Championship Trophy—a plain silver bowl—was a surprisingly uninspired creation. Not so for the Orbiter Trophy, an odd promotional award from the good folks at Frontier Airlines, given to the winner of the yearly season series between the ABA’s Denver Nuggets and Utah Stars. Festooned with everything from an official ABA ball to a model airplane, the Nuggets won the garish masterpiece of a trophy nine of 11 years. In the league’s last season of play in 1975-76, the Utah Stars folded mid-season, and the Orbiter Trophy disappeared right along with them.

5 and 6. The Chesterfield Trophy and The Gold Cup (roller derby)

In the height of its popularity in the late ‘40s-early ‘50s, Chesterfield cigarettes gave its name to the championship trophy for the International Roller Derby League. While the league endured until 1973, the Chesterfield was phased out when the IRDL lost its national TV contract. This was eventually replaced by the Gold Cup, last won when the New York Chiefs won the trophy in a sold out Madison Square Garden (the same year Raquel Welch played one match for the Kansas City Bombers as a publicity stunt). The league then vanished, and according the Roller Derby Hall of Fame, not even the league’s long-time president has any idea where either trophy is.

7. The Avco World Trophy (hockey)

Avco lent its name—and a $500,000 prize—to the winner of the WHA, a rival league to the NHL in the ‘70s. Avco was an aviation defense contractor, so it’s fitting that the Winnipeg Jets played for the Cup five out of seven years, winning three of them. One version of the trophy remains in Winnipeg … even though that version of the Jets that won the Avco now plays in Arizona.

Like many of these other trophies, the Avco had a notable disappearing act of its own. However, it was during the first season of the WHA that the award failed to materialize, as the Cup wasn’t finished in time to be awarded. Thus, the victorious—and somewhat embarrassed—New England Whalers were forced to skate the ice with their Conference Championship Trophy instead.

8. The XFL Trophy (football)

The league, co-owned by WWE’s Vince McMahon and NBC, proved to be a ratings-challenged laughing stock during its short time in, er, Xistence. Less than one month after the Los Angeles Xtreme won the league’s inaugural championship game—the “Million Dollar Game”—in 2001, the league folded. The trophy (which lacked an equally distinctive moniker) is now a conversation piece in the California home of J.K. McKay, the Xtreme’s GM.

9. The World Bowl Trophy (football)

Not faring all that much better was the WFL of the mid-70s, a rival football league that managed to at least start (if not finish) a second season. The league’s Birmingham Americans won the inaugural—and only—World Bowl Trophy in 1974, after which all of the team’s assets were confiscated by creditors. Among these was assumed to be the World Bowl Trophy, until it was discovered thirty years later, languishing forgotten in a supply room in Birmingham’s Legion Field. It now resides in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham.

10. The Jules Rimet Trophy (soccer)

This silver trophy—first awarded to the winner of FIFA’s World Cup in 1930—was stolen not once but twice in its tumultuous history. First, it went missing while touring England during the 1966 World Cup, only to be unearthed a week later by a plucky Collie named Pickles. However, Pickles was long gone by 1983 when the trophy was later lifted from a display case in Brazil and melted down to be sold as metal bars. Fortunately, a replica was created after the first incident, and it lives today at England’s National Football Museum.

Honorable Mention: The Platypus Trophy (college football)

Starting in 1959, the Platypus has gone to the winner of the yearly match-up between the Oregon (Ducks) and Oregon State (Beavers) football teams. However, for roughly 40 years, this wasn’t the case as The Platypus was repeatedly stolen by both schools, only to go missing and eventually forgotten. It was finally rediscovered in 2005 in a closet at Oregon’s basketball arena, and the wooden trophy resumed being awarded in 2007.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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